There is no spoon – The challenge of unlimited bandwidth in a limited world.

Change is constant. With increased international capacity it was inevitable that ISPs would eventually enter a price war. It was MWEB, a traditionally not-so-forward-thinking ISP, who shot first.

Uncapped internet for a price that didn’t seem insane – Terms and Conditions apply... It didn’t take long (a few minutes actually) before the nerds were frothing at the mouth over what seemed to be overly-burdensome (and in some cases just-plain-stupid) regulations. Rules like “No unattended downloading” being one of them… while in principle most people understood the ethos, the unfortunate reality is that rules shouldn’t be _made_ to be broken… and telling an old granny she can’t go make a cup of tea while her email downloads is simply not intelligent.

The problem is simple. Internet Service Providers have a limited resource and they are selling it on as an unlimited resource… It’s the all-you-can-eat ribs special, only in a digital world, where the limit to how much you can eat is simply a question of how big your hard drive is.

Most of the nerdosphere understood that ISP’s would have to enforce some limitations, and in fact, most ISPs worldwide have some form of Acceptable Usage Policy. The difference being that the kind of numbers that constitute abuse are generally in the range of hundreds of gigabytes/terabytes per month, and then only after consecutive months of “abuse”.

The problem in SA is that the business model is really hard to get right because it revolves around a number of unknowns:
1. What can we offer that’s good enough to a) Attract customers. b) Be called uncapped. c) Not piss off the nerdosphere. ?
2. How many customers can we sell this to?
3. What will the average usage of those customers be? (Ubernerds download a lot more than your Granny)
4. If we scale up operations because of a surge of new customers, how can we be sure those customers will hang around to support the increased running costs?

Additionally, ISPs are obviously terrified to not enter the market because not having an uncapped option will inevitably mean losing pretty much every customer who isn’t living under a rock.

So, possibly with a fair dose of fear and trepidation, a number of other ISPs quickly entered the market with their own offerings, all clambering to try and get that business model right.

Some ISPs even appear to have decided to start selling the product before they figured out what that business model would be. A bold move that cost the likes of Afrihost a fair amount of pain when they realised they needed to implement a soft cap (they call it something else) at 60gb. That 60gb number wasn’t anywhere on their website because it appears to have not existed when they launched… it was only after seeing the real usage numbers that they realised they needed to implement some additional limits. (After downloading 60gb your connection is throttled, and then once you hit 120 it’s throttled further etc etc)

So we come to what is really the crux of this debate. What is uncapped? Currently the uncapped market is unregulated and very unstable. The rules are changing on an almost daily basis and pretty much anyone can offer anything and call it uncapped. Someone could have a product that calls itself “uncapped” but that limits you to 1kbps after the first megabyte. This is not good for consumers.

The market is in need of a lot more transparency or a regulator. There are really only two groups that could play the role of regulator: The Advertising Standards Association and the Internet Service Providers Association. I’m ignoring ICASA for obvious, incompetent and toothless, reasons.

The ASA unfortunately doesn’t have the knowledge to regulate such a highly complex industry and any attempts to do so would probably have very negative effects for all involved.

ISPA on the other hand does have the know-how but hasn’t publicly said anything about the matter. All of the ISPs currently offering Uncapped ADSL are ISPA members. I think the only reasonable solution is for ISPA to get a bunch of its members together and lock them in a room until they can all agree on what the minimum provision for an uncapped account should be. This would need to be measurable limits and not warm-and-fluffy, open to interpretation, language. They may even decide that calling these sorts of accounts “uncapped” is dishonest, perhaps it should just be called something like “Managed Cap 60” etc.

I look forward to the day that we have true uncapped internet in this country and I salute those ISPs who are trying their best to bring us closer to true uncapped internet. They are brave businesses operating in an increasingly brutal space.

Most importantly we need the ISPs to be honest about what they’re selling. If they’re selling something that has graduated throttling (like Afrihost is doing) they need to say so before they take the customers money. Afrihost doesn’t currently say this on their website, but their CEO has published (very bravely and honestly) the planned (and he understandably pointed out that it was plan that might change) approach on the mybroadband forums. I’m sure that this info will make it onto their website as soon as the dust settles.

Publishing the exact structure/behaviour of their uncapped product is a brave move that hopefully will force other ISPs to do the same. It’s only when all ISPs are showing their hands that consumers will be able to make an informed decision.


Corporate Call Centre Rules

  1. Try to employ people who are very apathetic. Your training costs will be reduced as they are far less likely to resign.
  2. When you have your phone system installed, make sure that departments are unable to transfer calls to other departments. By doing this it is far more likely that the customer will just stop calling.
  3. Involve as many people as possible in every process (More hands make light work!) and encourage “arms-length” customer relations. If anything goes wrong it’s best if there’s nobody to blame.
  4. Never transfer the call to a manager, instead always take a message and promise that the manager will return the call within the hour. Obviously the consultant can not be held responsible if the manager never returns the call because everyone knows that managers are very busy managing things.
  5. Managers should never call customers, this is a waste of their time being managers. Instead, let juniors deal with the problem and decide amongst themselves that nobody is to blame. This keeps the company “Dynamic”.
  6. Serious complaints should not be answered by consultants, even if they know exactly what went wrong and how to fix it.  Instead, let the already angry customer wait days for a manager to “investigate” before replying.
  7. Voicemail is a great weapon in the modern corporate’s fight against customers. The best voicemail systems should answer almost immediately so that consultants aren’t bothered by ringing phones. Also, make the message as generic as possible so the customer has no idea if their message will reach its intended recipient. Computer “glitches” are a great way to explain the lack of response to voicemail.
  8. Be big, really big. So big that if a customer phones the same number 100 times they are still unlikely to ever get the consultant they originally dealt with.
  9. Employ staff whose language and diction are sub-standard. These individuals are great at deflecting customers; most will just give up after 20 seconds of trying to understand what’s going on.
  10. Always remember, if the customer came to you they must be really desperate! Treat them like crap, anything less risks being confused as “customer service”.

Coffee Filters and Frickin Laser Beams!

I’m always amazed at how difficult it is to get some businesses to actually sell you something. When we moved we lost a box of kitchen stuff. For weeks we searched, convinced that we couldn’t have actually lost it, and equally convinced that the movers wouldn’t have stolen something as arbitrary as a box full of tongs and cheese slicers. The most troublesome loss was the metal filters for our espresso machine.

frikkenlaserbeamsAfter weeks of searching I admitted defeat and decided we’d have to buy replacement filters. I’d bought the machine at @home and every time we’d come across a branch I would ask if they had replacement filters and every time they would say no, but offer to take down my details and call me when they got stock. I did this at about 4 different branches, and after three months of hearing nothing I started returning, weekly, to the same branch in hopes of getting somewhere. Still, 4 months past and I never received a call, not even to say that they were impossible to get.

Our cat loves chasing lasers… Somewhere in the middle of this whole story her laser broke and we were left laserless, which, any cat owner will know, is not a happy place.

I had bought the previous laser for R15 from a street vendor outside Cavendish square. He sold bouncing balls and other bits of plastic whatnots. This was not the pinnacle of retail by any means. Unfortunately he was out of stock but offered to call me when he had stock. I didn’t expect him to… I mean, he’s sitting on a beer crate and has a radio built into a plastic flower blaring badly tuned 5fm. I gave him my number but promptly forgot about our interaction.

2 days later my phone rang. It was the guy from the bouncy ball stall calling to tell me he had lasers in stock.

So, 4 branches and 4 months, weekly reminders and hassling and the big retail store couldn’t even get it right to call me… but a dude sitting on a crate, selling spiderman underpants and cardboard puzzles, called me, knowing full well that the call would cost roughly 10% of the sales price, to let me know he had stock.

I never did hear back from @Home and we eventually found the filters, and all the other stuff, in a box we thought was empty 😉

Let The Police Eat Cake

A few months ago we had some hassles in Obs with criminals stealing car wheels. Eventually it was happening almost nightly. The Neighbourhood Watch (I’m a member, how responsible of me!) started ramping up their patrolling and putting pressure on the police to catch the guys. Within a few days a sharp eyed policeman spotted something trying to hide next to a car with a wheel spanner in his hand. Within minutes they had 4 guys in custody… I was out on a patrol at the time, ironically one road up from where the guys were eventually caught. That night at the Woodstock police station I promised to organise some cake for the police to say thanks.

I pinged a few of the more active neighbourhood watchers and a few agreed to help out financially… Then I though about Charly’s! If you want awesome cake you have to go to Charly’s, but it’s not cheap. I mailed Charly’s and asked if they’d be willing to give us a discount for a good cause. To my surprise they said they’d give us cake for free!  This was brilliant. We used the additional funds to buy other stuff like samoosas and coke etc. To our absolute surprise, when we went to go and collect the cake they had even decorated each one with a police theme!

All in all a nice little party (we actually had two parties to cover both shifts). A big thank you to Charly’s and the other ONW members who helped out.


Working with people who are good at what they do…

There is a lot to be said for working with people who are good at what they do… I’ve been lucky enough over the years to work with a lot of experts. People who excel at their jobs and go out of their way to provide excellent service.

Then I tried to buy a house.

Oh my lordy is this an industry that needs to go on a serious diet and lose some fat.

Property seems to be one of those black box industries where you’re expected to just nod and smile while they withdraw large sums of money from your bank account and imply that you’re really way too dumb to understand where it’s all going and why… much like the Travel Industry… And I’ve worked in the travel industry for about 6 years so my BS radar is quite effective.

I could go on and on about how incredibly bad some of the experiences I’ve had over the past few weeks are… People who never get back to me… Agents who drag me to dodgy locations late at night only to discover the owner of the house isn’t there… Agents who make appointments with me and then cancel 5 minutes before the meeting because they ‘didn’t actually organise it‘… but I won’t because there are very good people out there who need some praise.

Firstly, and I must admit I am surprised by this, Ooba… specifically Colin from Ooba. This is a guy who has repeatedly surprised me by how efficient he is and how willing he is to take time to explain things in detail. He ALWAYS calls back, always replies to my emails, and always seems exceedingly knowledgeable in his area of expertise. I get the impression I’m dealing with a guy who is genuinely passionate about homeloans and passionate about excellent service. All that without ever saying “We’re passionate about…”. The few dealings I’ve had with the banks, INCLUDING MY OWN FRIGGEN BANK, have been painful, tiresome and actually left me more confused than I started.

UPDATE 2014: While I still stand by my original statement re Ooba, when we bought again in late 2013 I found my joy with Ooba dwindled… I had far greater success doing the legwork and dealing with the banks directly. It was a fracking painful and time consuming process but in the end we got the bond.

Secondly, I’ve realised that there is a BIG difference between a good estate agent and a bad estate agent. The good ones take time to consider what you’re looking for, they don’t waste your time with rubbish. They call back when they need to, they don’t try and pressure you into making a purchase by spinning bullshit about the economy and how rare ‘a place like this is’… They use email and embrace the internet. They don’t lie or misrepresent the truth. Good agents won’t badmouth other agents while showing you around a property and they wont moan at you on the phone if you happen to agree to see a place with someone else because they didn’t get back to you in time. Good agents will spend a rainy night in observatory driving you around from location to location and be honest about the condition and “accuracy” of the owners asking price. Good agents will also deal with tricky owners and tenants and get you into properties where others have failed.

So here is a list of agents who get my nod of approval:

  • Christian from Rose Eedes in Observatory.
  • Leigh and Sharon Ball from Sharon Ball Properties.

Not a very long list is it? Considering I’ve dealt with about 15…

Also I’d like to thank Michael R. for giving me lots of good advice on the bond stuff… it’s nice to have a friend who can point out any pitfalls when you’re about to drop a fortune on a house.

Impressed by the traffic department…

I just called the Cape Town traffic department (400-4900) to make sure that my address was correct on my car registration (I haven’t received my licence renewal form yet).

A very friendly Pumela asked me for my registration and then asked me what I thought my address was… Only then did I realise the huge social engineering opportunity that they’ve obviously been trained to avert. She would not tell me my address, but only confirm that what I told her was correct. This is obviously to make sure that you can’t just phone up the traffers with the licence plate of the guy who cut you off, or the babe in the Audi, and get their addresses.

Nice. My address was correct… I’ll be receiving my reminder shortly.


Momentum Insurance = Liars

Catch up: In case you missed it, 10 days ago my car was broken into and a bag containing pretty much all my clothing was stolen… 10 days ago I reported the theft to momentum insurance. 10 days later I have nothing but a bunch of empty promises and a few lies. Read all about it here.


Yesterday (Tuesday) Tselane (the team leader) told me that she definitely would call by the end of the day (yesterday) with an answer with regards to my claim.

She never called.

It’s now the end of Wednesday and another 24 hours has passed and once again Tselane has gone home without calling me like she said she would.

I called to speak to either Tselane or Carina and neither of them were available so I left a message… but this time I was smart.

After leaving my message and just before Thabiso, the message center person, was due to put down his phone I asked him why he didn’t give me a message number. Remember, Carina said that the message centre staff *ALWAYS* give the person who leaves a message a message reference number… This was her way of squirming out of not calling me back when I left repeated messages for her to call me. Well guess what, the message center people don’t give out numbers unless you specifically know that such a number exists and ask for it.

Thabiso’s exact words were “I didn’t think you wanted one“… well, Thabiso, how would I have known one even existed? Shouldn’t you have asked me?

I asked to speak to Thabiso’s supervisor who, surprise surprise, is not available. Funny that… So once again I’ve left a message for someone else at Momentum to call me and we’ll see what happens… I won’t be holding my breath. The supervisors name is Andy.

Momentum, if you want proof of all this, go listen to the call. The message number is 6264743. I asked.

A list of people at momentum who don’t return their calls.

1. Carina – The Consultant

2. Tselane – The Team Leader

3. Andy – The Call Centre Supervisor (We’ll see in a few hours)


I started this whole thing upbeat… remarking how I was lucky to be in a position to be insured and have money to buy new clothes in an emergency. I’m now more angry at Momentum Insurance than I ever was at the idiot who stole my stuff. I don’t pay the guy who stole my stuff a few thousand rand every month only to be ignored and lied to. Thieves and Liars the lot of them.


Update: Thursday:

More and more ridiculous by the day. In the past week I’ve left about 10 messages with the message center people at Momentum. Not once have they given me a number without me asking for it… This morning was the best one. I spoke to Nonte (ref: 6268767) who went completely silent for about 20 seconds every time I asked her why she didn’t give me the number. I’m not exaggerating.

Me: Why didn’t you give me the message number

<silence for 20 seconds>

Me: Hello? Hello? Why didn’t you give me the number?

Nonte: Would you like me to give you the number now sir?

Me: No, I’m asking you why did you give me the message center number?

<silence for 20 seconds>

Me: Hello? I can hear you in the background… Why aren’t you speaking?


Nonte: Would you like me to give you the number now sir?

Me: No. I want to know why you didn’t give me the number?

<silence for 20 seconds>

Nonte: Would you like me to give you the number now sir?

Me: okay, yes.

Nonte: 6268767

Me: Okay, so why didn’t you give that to me earlier?

Nonte: Because I thought you were in a hurry.

It’s like I was dealing with a robot who went into a cpu intensive loop every time I asked her a question that wasn’t in her pre-programmed database of question/answer pairs.

Tselane is apparently busy. Carina called me at 7:30 this morning. (I wake up at 7:30)

I finally got to speak to Carina and she said that Tselane asked her to call me and tell me that they haven’t forgotten about me but that my claim is being escalated to some other person who isn’t available… So it’s now 8 days since I was told that I would definitely have an answer by the end of that day.

I give up.

Where is the love? – Chapter 1

Love is not something we generally associate with business — we don’t love most of the companies we deal with and more unfortunately, most people don’t even love their own jobs. If you’re in business it is more than likely that your company doesn’t love your customers (beyond what could be considered blatant cupboard/money love) and even if your company doesn’t hate its customers, it probably isn’t partaking in public-displays-of-affection towards them or even letting them know how they feel.You might think I’m joking. But you’d be wrong.

Unless you’re in the business of manufacturing leopard print kitchen appliances that only work in small Eastern European countries, the chances are that someone else is doing what you’re doing, and probably better. The longer I am involved with businesses the more I realise that most consumers seem to pick the companies they deal with in a seemingly random manner. It’s not really random, and there are plenty of books out there detailing why consumers act the way they do and if you care to study them you’ll probably end up with the same conclusion I did; that humans are herd-like animals, apparently no more intelligent at choosing which grassy hill to stand on then a pack of cows on a lazy Sunday afternoon.

cows2.jpgAnd this for the most part is reality… Consumers choose one company over another because other people are doing it and aren’t spontaneously self-combusting. Spontaneously Self Combustion seems to be the benchmark for good service these days. If the customers aren’t exploding the company must be doing a good job.

But like young Brook Shields felt in the first part of Blue Lagoon, there must be more to this.

Who is that first cow and why did he walk onto that particular hill? We know why all the other cows followed him — because cows are like humans, a little bit stupid.

That first cow was probably a lover.

He loved the feeling of the dewy grass under his hooves, he loved the way the mist sat peacefully in the lower lying parts of his hill. He loved how he could return to his perfect spot where the grass was perfect and the sun was perfectly aligned so as to warm up his bum and not be in his eyes. And how the tree was nearby for later when it got too hot and he wanted some shade… and the view… he loved the view. It reminded him of Scotland.

All the other cows went up onto that hill because that’s what cows do… that and our lover cow hadn’t yet exploded.

Consumers, as I have already pointed out, are a lot like cows. We do love to have the sun shine on our bums and not in our eyes. And when we find a company that makes us feel that way we generally stay with them for a long time.

Unfortunately companies are not grassy hills. Generally they suck. They take your money and give you just enough of whatever it is that they’re meant to be giving you so that you don’t go mad cow on their scrawny, dried up grass, no shady tree, hill asses.

In my imaginary little world I like to believe that that perfect hill is actually loving that cow back… loving how his hooves feel running down its back, loving how the cow stands in the same spot, chewing on his puke and gazing happily into the distance. The hill loves feeling loved.

There is a problem though. Cows don’t have money.

If cows had money our lover cow would become a perverted cow. He’d look to see which hill he could get for less and could he perhaps swap the tree for a small umbrella and maybe the grass didn’t really need to be real grass so long as when he ate it he didn’t explode.

This is what customers have become. Selfish perverted annoying little brats who make you angry and call you at 6:15 when you’re just about to go home and moan that their widget isn’t working just like you promised it would and if you don’t make it work RIGHT NOW they’re going to leave your company and start using that other company who’s customers also aren’t exploding.

And then we wonder why we don’t love our customers… and why they don’t love us.

There is another way. Love. Imagine if your customer loved you and the widget. Imagine if you loved your customer. You probably would have spent more time on that widget, setting it up just right because you loved the way the customer loved you when their widget was working perfectly… and if your customer loved you and their widget still didn’t work they’d call in the morning because they’d know it would be an inconvenience to call at 6:15pm. Because you loved them and they loved you.

You may think I am mad, but there *are* company-consumer relationships like this.

Things that make me smile…

Ever have one of those weeks when you just can’t stop smiling because the world is just being so damn inspirational?

Ok, so here’s my list of things I am currently happy about:

minicards.jpg1. My Moo Cards arrived: You have no idea how friggen happy I am with them. Moo is an inspirational company and yes, I would even consider living in London to be able to work there and learn from the Moo’inistas. Since everyone wanted to know, they cost $19.99 (R145) for 100 cards. Next time you see me ask for a moo card. I’ve even made my first Moo friend.

2. Civil Twilight made my day: So a couple of days ago I got a message on facebook to say that there was a CD waiting for me in Hout Bay… Apparently I was on the “list” of complementary CDs… getting a free CD is much more of a big deal when there are probably only a few in the country at the moment. Thanks boys. Much Appreciated! The album is awesome, my only fear is that I might wear out the CD. Check out their other video.

Civil Twilight Press Pics3. Mix two of my favourite things…: If I was into American football I could have called this one “mix three of my favourite things” because one of Civil Twilight’s songs, ‘Human’ will be featured on this Sunday’s special Superbowl episode of ‘House’ guest starring Academy Award winning actress Mira Sorvino. House is one of my favourites… so is Civil Twilight. Mira is ok. 😉

4. An awesome GeekDinner: The 6th GeekDinner took place in the cosy Sloppy Sams. I was MC for the evening and really enjoyed it. About 70 of us crammed into the tiny little restaurant and had an absolute blast. Thanks to everyone who helped out.

5. Friends: I guess it goes without saying that friends are important, but recently I’ve been finding my friends to be more than just important, they’ve been critical. Sometimes your friends can give you the kick in the bum you need to get your ducks in a row… Other times they just need to be there to make you laugh. Some friends are their to guide you, others to chide you and still others just to make you feel good about yourself. Tonight I’m going to see kitty! My long lost kitty from London!… Super stoked.

6. Synchronicity: A while back I was looking for a maid/domestic worker/housekeeper whatever you want to call them. I asked around the apartment building I live in and someone suggested an awesome woman called Nokulunga who’s been my angel for the past few months. I can’t tell you what a pleasure it is to come home to a clean apartment every friday. Anyways, the reason I’m mentioning this is because she’s looking for somewhere to work on mondays. She comes highly recommended.

7. Last but not least: As some of you may know, I’ve been seeing someone recently. Anything I say here will be dripping with cheese and I’d rather not put you all through that. Maybe I’ll just say yay!